“-ajor disaster!” Terrance was halfway through a sentence when Lawrence pulled open the door. “Five people. Five! Dead! And dozens of others are infected, that we KNOW of, all trapped inside, and we still have no clue what is happening!”
“But,” the man sitting beside Brad Lee on the opposite end of the table from Terrance spoke. Lawrence recognized him as George, one of the investors. The man was almost six foot tall but sitting beside Brad Lee made him look like a child. “You are suggesting that we shut down the EmVee. You are suggesting that we forfeit hundreds of thousands in revenue a day until your team figures out what’s going on and how to resolve it. We’re not saying no, we’re saying we’re not going to do anything until you tell us how long it will take.”
“People are dying,” Terrance said. Lawrence had the distinct impression from his tone that it wasn’t the first time he had said it, either. “The users need to know that they are potentially in danger. We need to minimize exposure until we resolve this.”
“You have no time frame. You have no estimations. You don’t even have anything suggesting we can fix this. Do you have any idea how much this will cost us?” George said.
“Stop,” Brad Lee said, raising a hand to silence the room. He didn’t raise his voice; he didn’t need to. Terrance had opened his mouth to respond to George, but hesitated when Brad Lee spoke. He closed his mouth and rest his hands on the table, leaning his weight on them. Brad Lee allowed the silence to settle into the room for several seconds before taking a breath, releasing a sigh, and continuing.
“We’re just chasing tails, here. I understand your enthusiasm for the safety and well being of our clients, and for the public health, Terrance, but it is clear that our friends do not share the same passion.” Brad Lee raised his hand again to silence the room as nearly every investor at the table began to protest.
“So,” Brad Lee continued, “Let’s discuss public relations, media coverage, and lawsuits; subjects that may take their interest as they will have a strong effect on their monetary gain. If information leaks out that we were aware of this problem and we did nothing to alert our users and protect them, that could be catastrophic, right?”
Brad Lee looked to George first, who nodded, then looked around the table letting his gaze settle on each member. Everyone agreed with a nod of their head.
“Terrance,” Brad Lee shifted in his seat. “In theory, I know we’ve never had to do this before since we launched over a decade ago… but, how long would it take to shut everything down and resolve this issue?”
“We can’t do that,” Lawrence found himself speaking before he even thought about what he was going to say. This brought the attention of the entire room to him as every head turned to look at him. His stomach churned and Lawrence fought back the urge to vomit. “Uh, sir,” he added after a pause.
“Oh?” Brad Lee raised a brow at Lawrence as he sat back in his seat. He raised one of his massive hands and motioned for Lawrence to move closer. “Please, explain.”
Lawrence was thankful he had the forethought to turn on the emotional suppression system in the relations menu before entering, hiding the anxiety he was feeling. He still felt it, but it wouldn’t show on his face or in the posture and expressions of his avatar. Although he often spent time giving speeches to large groups, they were always under his role-playing persona as the level 66 magic-wielder named Nomra. He found it was easier to be his character than to be himself. As himself, he could barely stand being the center of attention at his own birthday parties. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he asked himself; what would Nomra do?
“Well,” Lawrence began as he straightened up and stepped closer to the table. “We can’t shut down the EmVee while infected minds are trapped inside. As we are all aware, the infection is trapping people’s consciousnesses inside the EmVee. Recent reports suggest that those who are infected have a very high chance of becoming comatose if their connection to the virtual world is severed. Oddly enough, even though their real-life selves are non-responsive, their Dopples-” Lawrence paused for a moment as he used an unofficial slang term adopted by users of the EmVee to refer to their digital counterparts; their avatars inside the virtual world. He was sure Brad Lee and Terrance would be aware of the term, but most of the investors were more than likely only business users of the EmVee and probably didn’t venture into the gaming world.
“Their avatars remain active,” Lawrence continued, “even after the player has been removed. The reports seem to suggest that their conscious minds have been absorbed into the game, possibly even downloaded, and that shutting the system down would not only sever the connection, but could delete their consciousness and potentially render the infected players effectively brain dead.”
The room was silent.